The excitement was thick at the Marshalltown Municipal Airport on Wednesday morning as a group of senior veterans prepared to be taken up in a restored, open-cockpit Boeing Stearman biplane for a special flight over Marshalltown.
The veterans were residents of the Accura HealthCare facilities in Marshalltown, Ames and Knoxville, and all they had to do was arrive at the airport on Wednesday morning. The Dream Flights team, consisting of Pilot James Sims and Crew Chief Hannah McLaughlin, took care of the rest.
Dream Flights is a nonprofit organization based out of Nevada which is dedicated to giving back to veterans all over the country by offering them free flights in one of their six biplanes — which just so happen to be the same type of aircraft used to train aviators in World War II — and Marshalltown is one of the numerous cities they have visited since April of this year.
Sims, who is a corporate pilot by trade, uses his time off of work to fly for Dream Flights, and he said he has yet to find a better way to thank the many veterans across the country for their service.
“It’s the best way I’ve ever seen to say thank you to vets, where you just get to isolate them, and they know it’s just for them,” Sims said. and you just see a smile come on their face that I haven’t seen anywhere else.”
While not a veteran himself, Sims has several veterans in his own family, and he feels that it’s important to honor them and show appreciation for the sacrifices they made in their lives.
“(My favorite part is) getting to meet veterans and having their family members and friends come out and them actually recognizing that, you know mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, accomplished stuff in their life,” Sims said. all get to live is really just thanks to their sacrifice.”
By November, Sims will have completed around 100 dream flights this season, and he’s not looking to slow up when the next season rolls around in the spring. McLaughlin has been volunteering with Dream Flights for about eight years as a crew chief, and she hopes to be flying for them in the near future.
Sims introduced himself to each of the veterans he would be flying with on Wednesday, and the first to go up in the biplane was Navy veteran Richard Warden, who served in World War II. Warden is 97 years old and still as spunky as ever, as he cracked jokes every step of the way while McLaughlin, Sims and members of the healthcare team from Accura helped him into the cockpit.
The flight lasted about 20 minutes, and when Warden landed back on solid ground, he was glowing from the flight over the city he’s lived in all his life.
“I had a lot of fun. I probably had more fun than most people, because I knew where all the little towns were,” Warden said after his flight. “I was born here, and I’ve lived here all my life, and I still really consider myself part of Marshalltown.”
In addition to the flight, because Warden is a WWII veteran, he was asked to sign the tail of the biplane. Dozens of other WWII vets’ signatures adorn the tail, and Warden’s joined them on Wednesday.
Up next was James Ramsey, who served in the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Iowa National Guard. He estimated that all of his military service added up to about 20 years. After he returned from his flight, he was equally as pleased by his experience, and said his favorite part was “the whole thing.”
In addition to Warden and Ramsey, several other veterans also got to take to the skies and each of the vets received a Dream Flight baseball cap signed by Sims, and of course, lots of pictures with the airplane, as well as with their families.
The Executive Director of Accura HealthCare of Marshalltown, Sharon DeSpain, said Accura has been involved with Dream Flights in the past, and when it came time for more, they signed up happily. DeSpain felt being able to do activities like the flights for the residents was important for many reasons.
“It honors them as a person, who they were, the service they gave to the country and it makes them feel special. It celebrates not only what they did, it also gives their families time to celebrate them as well,” DeSpain said.
DeSpain is an Army National Guard veteran herself, so the event was close to her heart for another reason. She was glad to see people respecting and honoring military veterans for their service and what they gave to their country.
After the event on Wednesday, the Dream Flights team was off to Nebraska to bring joy to veterans in Omaha.
Over 5,000 seniors and veterans have been honored with free Dream Flights since the organization’s founding in 2011 by Darryl and Carol Fisher, and the only state they haven’t visited is Hawaii. Several different sponsors, including American Airlines, contribute financially to make their mission a reality, along with the 100 crew chiefs, pilots and other helpers who keep things running smoothly.
To request a flight for a facility, or even just for an individual, visit the Dream Flights website at https://dreamflights.org/ and scroll over the ‘Request a flight’ tab at the top of the page.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.